Summary of the Novel
Several stories intertwine throughout Uncle Tom’s Cabin, but they all center on two main plots. One plot focuses on the Harris family, the other on Uncle Tom.
Mr. Shelby is a considerate master, but he must sell Tom to Haley, the slave trader, to pay off some debts. Eliza, Mrs. Shelby’s servant, rightly fears that her son Harry will also be sold to Haley. She escapes to Ohio, taking Harry with her. Along the way, Eliza is assisted by Senator and Mrs. Bird, as well as a Quaker community. George Harris, Eliza’s husband, runs away too after learning that his master refuses to lend him any longer to Mr. Wilson, a generous factory owner. The Harris family eventually reaches the safety of Canada, after being pursued unsuccessfully by slave catchers.
Meanwhile, St. Clare purchases Tom from Haley after Little Eva befriends the pious slave. Miss Ophelia, St. Clare’s cousin from New England, visits and manages the St. Clare household in New Orleans. She also takes in Topsy as her ward. Eva dies after a prolonged illness, and a mournful St. Clare decides to free Tom. St. Clare is murdered, however, before he can draw up the papers. Tom is sold to Simon Legree, who runs a plantation in Louisiana. Legree beats Tom to death when the slave refuses to confess the whereabouts of Cassy and Emmeline, two of Legree’s slaves who have run away. Cassy joins the Harrises in Canada, and they relocate to Africa.
Estimated Reading Time
Uncle Tom’s Cabin is 451 pages long, and should take approximately 15-18 hours to read. The book consists of 45 chapters, and reading breaks can be taken after every two or three chapters.
The Life and Work of Harriet Beecher Stowe
Harriet Beecher Stowe was born on June 14, 1811, in Litchfield, Connecticut. She was raised in a family of ministers, two of them quite famous in their time: her father, Lyman Beecher, and her brother, Henry Ward Beecher. In fact, six of her seven brothers were ministers and she even married a clergyman, Calvin Stowe. Two of her sisters, Catharine and Isabella, became actively involved in reform movements, including education and women’s rights.
Stowe herself became known as the celebrated author of Uncle Tom’s Cabin. Written in 1852, nine years prior to the Civil War, the book stirred up much controversy among both Southerners and Northerners for its attack on slavery. Even then, the book quickly became a best-seller, with one million copies sold within the first year of its publication. Afterwards, upon meeting Stowe at the White House in 1862, Abraham Lincoln supposedly quipped: “So this is the little lady who wrote the book that made this great war.”
Prior to this renown, Stowe aided her sister Catharine at the Hartford Female Seminary from 1824 to 1832. The family moved to Cincinnati, Ohio in 1832 when Lyman Beecher became the director of the Lane Theological Seminary. Here, Stowe came into contact with such abolitionists, or anti-slavery people, as Theodore Weld and Salmon Chase. She also met her husband Calvin, who was a professor of religion at the school. They married in 1836.
Stowe developed an early interest in writing and began to publish her work in 1833. Ten years later, a collection of her short stories entitled The Mayflower appeared. The task of writing, however, was never easy for her. She constantly had to find a balance between her life as an author and as a wife and a mother to seven children. As she put it: “I mean to have money enough to have my house kept in the best manner and yet to have time for reflection and that preparation for the education of my children which every mother needs.”
The Stowes moved and traveled a great deal. In 1850, they returned from the Midwest to New England, where Calvin taught at Bowdoin College in Maine. The family relocated to Andover, Massachusetts in 1852, and then to Hartford, Connecticut in 1864. They also maintained a summer residence in Florida from 1868 to 1884. At three intervals during the 1850s, Stowe journeyed to Europe.
Much of these experiences contributed to Stowe’s prolific writing. She published four novels about the New England region: The Minister’s Wooing (1859), The Pearl of Orr’s Island (1862), Oldtown Folks (1869), and Poganuc People (1878). Sunny Memories of Foreign Lands (1854) was gleaned from her European travels, and Palmetto-Leaves (1873) from her insights on Florida. Stowe also wrote for several magazines, such as the Atlantic Monthly, as well as other volumes of essays, novels, and histories. None of these projects, however, received the widespread notice that made Uncle Tom’s Cabin one of the most popular novels in the nineteenth century. Harriet Beecher Stowe died on July 1, 1896.
Harriet Beecher Stowe composed Uncle Tom’s Cabin during the tumultuous pre-Civil War period. She developed an intense abolitionist attitude, combining it with her Christian faith, as a result of living in Ohio. Because of its proximity to Kentucky, a slave state, Cincinnati served as a way station for slaves escaping north to Canada. Stowe based several characters and incidents in Uncle Tom’s Cabin on her own family’s and friends’ experiences helping runaway slaves.
Uncle Tom’s Cabin was Stowe’s response to the politics of her time. As part of the Compromise of 1850, Northern and Southern congressmen passed the Fugitive Slave Law. This legislation ordered that Southern slave catchers could retain the aid of any law enforcers in the North to search for fugitive slaves. By this logic, the North and the South became direct partners in the perpetuation of slavery.
Stowe wanted to indict the system of slavery itself, and not solely individuals. She argued that Christianity provided the moral force to overcome the evils of her day, both for slaves and masters, as well as for indifferent Northerners. The character, Uncle Tom, personifies her ideal of Christian humility and goodness.
Uncle Tom’s Cabin has been translated into numerous foreign languages, and has sold in the millions. Plays, songs, poetry, films, and other novels have been based on the book.
Modern critics have displayed various reactions to Uncle Tom’s Cabin. Until recently, most scholars have ignored Stowe’s work, or have decried its outdated, sentimental tone. Such African-American writers as James Baldwin and Richard Wright have denounced Stowe’s racist portrayal of slaves. Others have felt uncomfortable with the author’s views supporting women’s limited roles in society. More critics, however, are beginning to pay close attention to the novel in light of its historical context. Whatever the response, Uncle Tom’s Cabin will continue to elicit diverse interpretations for some time to come.
Master List of Characters
Mr. and Mrs. Shelby—kind owners of Uncle Tom in Kentucky.
Young Master George—the Shelbys’ son.
Haley—slave trader who buys Uncle Tom from the Shelbys, and then sells him farther South.
Eliza—servant to Mrs. Shelby, mother of Harry, and is married to George Harris.
Harry—son of Eliza and George Harris.
George Harris—husband of Eliza, father of Harry, works in Mr. Wilson’s factory.
Uncle Tom—Christian slave of Shelbys’, married to Aunt Chloe.
Aunt Chloe—Uncle Tom’s wife, cook on Shelby plantation.
Mose and Pete—children of Tom and Chloe.
Sam and Andy—slaves on the Shelby plantation.
Mr. Symmes—helps Eliza and Harry onshore after they run across ice floes on the Ohio River to escape from Haley.
Tom Loker—acquaintance of Haley’s, slave catcher who looks for Eliza and Harry.
Marks—Tom Loker’s conniving companion.
Senator John Bird—Congressman who supports the Fugitive Slave Law, but ultimately helps Eliza and Harry escape.
Mrs. Mary Bird—Senator Bird’s Christian wife, who argues against her husband’s politics and convinces him to aid fugitives.
John Van Trompe—a neighbor of the Birds.
Mr. Wilson—George Harris’s considerate employer at a factory.
a drover—a cattle driver who talks with Mr. Wilson about slavery.
Mr. Harris—George Harris’s harsh master.
Lucy—woman whom Haley buys and separates from her child, drowns herself in despair.
Aunt Hagar and Albert—mother and son whom Haley separates by buying the son.
Simeon and Rachel Halliday—Quaker couple who assist Eliza and Harry, reunites them with George Harris when he runs from a harsh master.
Ruth Stedman—a Quaker friend and neighbor of the Hallidays.
Augustine St. Clare—little Eva’s father and Marie St. Clare’s husband, Uncle Tom’s second benevolent owner after buying him from Haley, lives in New Orleans.
Eva—saintly daughter of St. Clares’, befriends Uncle Tom.
Mammy—St. Clares’ family servant.
Marie St. Clare—Augustine St. Clare’s pouting and selfish wife, Little Eva’s mother.
Miss Ophelia—Augustine’s efficient Vermont cousin who comes to visit.
Phineas Fletcher—Quaker who helps the Harris family escape, fends off Tom Loker.
Jim and his mother—two slaves who run away with the Harris family.
Old Dinah—cook in St. Clares’ home.
Prue—slave woman from another house who visits St. Clares’ and is often drunk, whipped to death by a harsh master.
Alfred St. Clare—Augustine’s twin brother who manages a plantation in Louisiana.
Henrique—Alfred’s son, Little Eva’s cousin.
Dodo—Henrique’s boy servant.
Topsy—eight- or nine-year-old slave girl whom Augustine buys for Miss Ophelia to educate.
Rosa, Jane, and Adolph—Augustine’s haughty servants.
Mr. Skeggs—keeper of a slave warehouse in which St. Clares’ servants are held before being sold on the auction block.
Sambo—a slave in Mr. Skeggs’s warehouse.
Emmeline—religious fifteen-year-old girl sold with Uncle Tom to Simon Legree.
Simon Legree—severe and tough-fisted master of a run-down plantation on the Red River in Louisiana, buys Emmeline and Uncle Tom.
Sambo and Quimbo—Simon Legree’s brutal slave drivers, slaves themselves.
Lucy—slave whom Simon Legree buys for Sambo; Uncle Tom helps her in the cotton fields.
Cassy—Simon Legree’s fiery slave mistress who escapes with Emmeline, discovered to be Eliza Harris’s long-lost mother.
Aunt Dorcas—Quaker woman who nurses Tom Loker back to health.
Mrs. Smyth—Quaker woman from Canada who helps the Harris family escape through disguises.
Madame de Thoux (Emily)—woman whom Master George meets after burying Uncle Tom and traveling north, discovered to be George Harris’s long-lost sister.
Little Eliza—Eliza and George Harris’s daughter, Cassy’s granddaughter, who is born free in Canada.
Summary (Magill's Survey of American Literature, Revised Edition)
Uncle Tom’s Cabin was Stowe’s first novel. Initially printed by installments in the National Era, an antislavery weekly published in Washington, D.C., from June 5, 1851, to April 1, 1852, it was a best-selling book of previously unheard of proportions. It was an instant success and soon acquired fame in many parts of the world.
It is not easy, however, to make a clear judgment of the merits of Uncle Tom’s Cabin. Those who exclude works that cater to the taste of the masses from the realm of high culture have difficulty describing its artistry in positive terms. Moreover, Stowe has been criticized for her depiction and characterization of black people, which led to numerous stereotypical and trivial imitations on the stage, in almanacs, in songs and poems, and even in paintings.
Stowe’s depiction of women has often been objectionable to modern sensibilities, because her women seem to be restricted to moral issues as they play themselves out in the domestic sphere. Underlying her portrayal of black people and women is an acceptance of the power of Christianity that is alien to modern readers. These three interwoven issues, the place of women and black people and the role of Christianity, are at the core of the novel and make it a central literary and political document of the American experience in the 1850’s.
If one accepts the standards set by male writers of the American tradition, which...
(The entire section is 621 words.)
Summary (Identities & Issues in Literature)
Uncle Tom’s Cabin: Or, Life Among the Lowly is a sentimental novel that exaggerates the goodness of Eva, the loyalty of Uncle Tom, and the viciousness of Simon Legree. Despite the sentimentality, Harriet Beecher Stowe’s abhorrence of slavery resonates throughout.
The story is about the sufferings of kindly old Uncle Tom, who originally belongs to a humane slaveholder named Shelby, and the delightfully talented little black boy named Harry. Eliza, Harry’s mother, overhearing the plan to sell her, Harry, and Uncle Tom, flees with her son. Uncle Tom remains behind as a sign of loyalty to his “mas’r.” He is sold to a vicious slave trader named Haley, who is determined to capture Eliza and her son.
Closely pursued by slave hunters, Eliza and Harry cross the icy Ohio River and luckily fall into the hands of abolitionist Senator Bird. Eliza is introduced to Quakers who help her escape via the Underground Railroad to join her fugitive husband in Canada.
On a steamboat headed for New Orleans, Tom befriends an angelic white child named Eva St. Clair and ends up saving her from drowning. She asks her father to buy Tom for their plantation. Tom leads a comfortable life on the St. Clare plantation, spending much time with his beloved Eva, until she becomes ill. Before her death she asks her father to free Tom. St. Clare also dies before he can fulfill his daughter’s request. His wife sells Tom to Simon Legree, a notorious...
(The entire section is 462 words.)
Summary (Masterplots, Fourth Edition)
Because his Kentucky plantation is encumbered by debt, Mr. Shelby makes plans to sell one of his slaves to his chief creditor, a New Orleans slave dealer named Haley. The dealer shrewdly selects Uncle Tom as partial payment on Shelby’s debt. While Haley and Shelby are discussing the transaction, Harry, the son of another slave, Eliza, comes into the room. Haley wants to buy Harry too, but at first Shelby is unwilling to part with the child. Eliza hears enough of the conversation to be frightened. She confides her fears to George Harris, her husband, a slave on an adjoining plantation. George, who is already bitter because his master has put him to work in the fields when he is capable of doing better work, promises that someday he will have his revenge on his hard masters. Eliza has been brought up more indulgently by the Shelbys, and she begs George not to try anything rash.
After supper, the Shelby slaves gather for a meeting in the cabin of Uncle Tom and his wife, Aunt Chloe. They sing songs, and young George Shelby, who has eaten his supper there, reads from the Bible. In the big house, Mr. Shelby signs the papers making Uncle Tom and little Harry the property of Haley. Eliza, upon learning her child’s fate from some remarks made by Mr. Shelby to his wife, flees with Harry, hoping to reach Canada and safety. Uncle Tom, hearing that he has been sold, resigns himself to the wisdom of Providence.
The next day, after Haley discovers his...
(The entire section is 1408 words.)
Summary (Masterplots II: Christian Literature)
Harriet Beecher Stowe’s Uncle Tom’s Cabin: Or, Life Among the Lowly (1852) is a romance that protests the Fugitive Slave Act (1850). As part of the Compromise of 1850, the Fugitive Slave Act made the federal government, via federal commissioners, responsible for apprehending runaway slaves and returning them to their alleged owners in the South. The federal commissioners were allowed to deputize citizens and force them to seize and report fugitive slaves, even against their wills, or face fines and imprisonment. This act galvanized opinions in the North against slavery and fueled the movement for abolition. Stowe’s novel uses abolitionist rhetoric to criticize Christian churches, particularly the Presbyterian Church, for failing to condemn slavery in the North and South. Stowe’s representation of slavery and of fugitive slaves calls on readers to respond to the question of slavery and the Fugitive Slave Act with an ethics rooted in Christian love and civil disobedience.
Arthur Shelby, in debt and facing dispossession and bankruptcy, decides to pay his mortgage by selling two slaves, Uncle Tom and Harry, to a trader named Mr. Haley. When Mr. Shelby tells his wife, Emily, about his agreement with Mr. Haley, she is angry and refuses to be her husband’s accomplice. Mrs. Shelby despises the institution of slavery because it is incompatible with her Christian values. She is upset by her husband’s business deal with Mr. Haley because two families...
(The entire section is 935 words.)
Chapter Summary and Analysis
Chapter 1: Summary and Analysis
Mr. Shelby: benevolent owner of a Kentucky plantation
Mrs. Shelby: Mr. Shelby’s religious wife
Haley: a slave trader
Eliza: Mrs. Shelby’s servant, Harry’s mother
Harry: four- or five-year-old son of Eliza
The book opens with a scene in which Mr. Shelby and Haley the slave trader are discussing business matters on Shelby’s plantation in Kentucky. Mr. Shelby, a gentleman planter described as “a fair average kind of man, good-natured and kindly,” has fallen into debt and must sell Uncle Tom, a trustworthy servant. Mr. Shelby vouches for Tom’s good working habits and Christian character. Haley, however, desires that more slaves be added to the deal to cover the debt. Little Harry, a boy slave, playfully interrupts the meeting and entertains the men with singing and dancing. Eliza, Harry’s mother and Mrs. Shelby’s personal servant, comes to retrieve her son. After they leave, Haley tries to convince Mr. Shelby to sell Eliza and Harry. Mr. Shelby refuses to sell Eliza out of respect for his wife, but he reluctantly considers parting with Harry.
Eliza overhears some of the two men’s conversation when she takes away Harry and proceeds to tell Mrs. Shelby her worries. Mrs. Shelby is unaware of her husband’s troubled financial status, and naively reassures Eliza that nothing will happen to her or her child. Mrs. Shelby is portrayed as...
(The entire section is 793 words.)
Chapters 2-3: Summary and Analysis
George Harris: Eliza’s husband and Harry’s father
Mr. Harris: George’s hard plantation master
A kind manufacturer: George’s employer at a factory, as yet unnamed
The two chapters here include the personal histories of George and Eliza Harris. The reader learns that Eliza had been raised from childhood by Mrs. Shelby. Eliza then met and married George, a slave on a nearby plantation. Hired out by his master, Mr. Harris, George works at a factory, in which he invents a hemp-cleaning machine. Because of George’s diligence and handiness, he becomes a favorite among his employer and fellow laborers. During this period of their lives, George is allowed great freedom in his work, and Eliza has given birth to Harry.
Mr. Harris, however, is envious of his slave’s success and popularity. George is taken back to the plantation, where he is “put to the meanest drudgery of the farm.” In the meantime, George keeps his anger from showing. George’s former employer visits the plantation, and tries to persuade Mr. Harris to let George return to work at the factory, but to no avail.
When George visits Eliza at the Shelby plantation, he recounts the hardships of laboring on his master’s farm and the unfair treatment he receives. Beaten and tired, he exclaims: “I wish I were dead!” His attitude frightens Eliza, and she tells him to trust in God. George,...
(The entire section is 712 words.)
Chapters 4-5: Summary and Analysis
Uncle Tom: Shelby’s devout and trusted slave
Aunt Chloe: Tom’s wife, a cook for the Shelbys
Master George: thirteen-year-old son of Mr. and Mrs. Shelby
Mose, Pete, and the baby: Tom’s and Chloe’s children
Chapter 4 opens with a description of Uncle Tom’s cabin, “a small log building” near the plantation house. Inside, Aunt Chloe prepares dinner, fixing a variety of dishes. She is the head cook on the Shelby plantation, and her talents are known throughout the neighborhood. Also in the cabin are the three children of Uncle Tom and Aunt Chloe. Here the reader is introduced to Uncle Tom, the main character. He is described as “Mr. Shelby’s best hand.” Tom’s character is “self-respecting and dignified, yet united with a confiding and humble simplicity.”
At this time, young Master George, the Shelbys’ son, is teaching Tom to write. George stays for dinner and talks to Aunt Chloe about neighborhood gossip. Mose and Pete, the two older children, play with the baby. After dinner, Tom’s cabin is the meeting place in which the plantation’s slaves gather to worship. They sing hymns, and Master George remains to read some Bible passages. Uncle Tom speaks to and prays for the group. He is looked upon as “a sort of patriarch in religious matters.”
The scene lastly shifts to the Shelby house. Mr. Shelby and Haley engage in...
(The entire section is 1309 words.)
Chapter 6: Summary and Analysis
Sam and Andy: slaves on the Shelby plantation
Mr. and Mrs. Shelby are brought news the following morning of Eliza’s escape. Mrs. Shelby reacts gratefully while her husband is less than thankful. The surprising report spreads throughout the house as the servants tell one another about the event.
Haley arrives at the plantation to pick up Uncle Tom and Harry. Much to his annoyance, he too learns of Eliza’s and Harry’s escape. He tells Mr. Shelby about the unfairness of the situation. Mr. Shelby responds angrily that he will not be accused of helping the fugitives run away. He then invites Haley in for breakfast to discuss what can be done.
Sam and Andy, two slaves on the Shelby plantation, are introduced in this chapter. They prepare some horses to aid Haley in his pursuit of Eliza. Andy, however, explains to Sam that Mrs. Shelby does not want Eliza caught. In fact, Mrs. Shelby tells Sam not to ride too fast because the horses should not be exhausted. Sam understands her implications to delay the chase.
To stir up trouble for Haley, Sam places a beechnut under the trader’s saddle. When Haley mounts his horse, the animal bolts and throws its rider. Shouting and waving, Sam pretends to chase Haley’s horse. He then explains to Haley that the horse must be rubbed down and rested after its exertions. Mrs. Shelby meanwhile invites Haley to stay for dinner, further...
(The entire section is 570 words.)
Chapters 7-8: Summary and Analysis
Mr. Symmes: a man who helps Eliza and Harry escape
Tom Loker: a slave catcher and acquaintance of Haley’s
Marks: a lawyer, Tom Loker’s partner
Eliza and Harry walk past the Shelby plantation’s boundaries as the mother thinks about the life she is leaving behind. Eliza plans to head toward the Ohio River and cross it from Kentucky into Ohio, a free state. She assures a frightened Harry that she will not let anyone harm him. They eventually stop at a tavern to rest. Nearby, the river is clogged by ice, and the water is turbulent. Eliza asks the tavernkeeper if a ferryboat will come to take them across. She receives an uncertain answer since traveling on the river appears dangerous. Harry becomes too tired to move further, and falls asleep.
Back at the Shelby plantation, Haley is still waiting to start after Eliza and Harry. Despite Mrs. Shelby’s promise to serve Haley dinner, Aunt Chloe takes her time cooking it. Chloe and other servants in the kitchen curse Haley and hope he suffers God’s vengeance. Uncle Tom cautions them not to wish any evil on anyone, even Haley. Tom counsels forgiveness and tells them to pray for Haley’s soul. Tom also understands Mr. Shelby’s actions and will abide by his decision. As Tom explains, “Mas’r couldn’t help hisself; he did right.” Mrs. Shelby tells Tom that she will try to buy him back as soon as she can.
(The entire section is 1413 words.)
Chapter 9: Summary and Analysis
Senator Bird: a politician who supports the Fugitive Slave Law
Mrs. Bird: the Senator’s pious wife
John Van Trompe: a neighbor of the Birds
The scene changes to Senator and Mrs. Bird’s home in Ohio. The Senator, a man who possesses “a particularly humane and accessible nature,” has just returned from Washington, D.C. after a period of legislating. Mrs. Bird, a religious woman, questions her husband on the morals of passing the Fugitive Slave Law. She wonders how a supposedly Christian legislature could make laws that forbid assisting runaways. Her own Christian sense of morality leads Mrs. Bird to declare that she will break the law if she must. Senator Bird, who had supported the law while in Congress, explains that the statute had been passed to calm slave holders in Kentucky who feared losing their slaves to the North.
At this point, Eliza and Harry show up at the Birds’ door. Tired and hungry from fleeing, Eliza tells the Birds of how she had crossed the ice-jammed river to escape from slave catchers. She also details some of her past situation: Mr. Shelby’s debts, the threat of being separated from Harry, how her husband George also fled from his master.
Because of his humanity, Senator Bird decides to help Eliza and Harry on their journey to Canada. He takes them to his neighbor John Van Trompe, a former slave owner who now shelters fugitive...
(The entire section is 728 words.)
Chapter 10: Summary and Analysis
The scene returns to Uncle Tom’s cabin. Tom gets ready to be taken and sold by Haley. Tom accepts his fate, saying, “I’m in the Lord’s hands.” Aunt Chloe, however, expresses her anguish at the injustice of the situation and finds little comfort in religion. Mrs. Shelby stops by the cabin to let Tom know that she will try to buy him back as soon as possible.
Haley then arrives to seize Tom. As they leave the plantation, Master George rides up to say his goodbyes to Tom. Knowing how their son is attached to Tom, the Shelbys decide not to tell Master George of the trade while he is visiting friends. Master George, however, rides back to the plantation in time and gives Tom a dollar coin. The slave then kindly lectures the boy to behave and respect his parents. Although stopped by Tom from harming Haley, Master George promises that when he is grown, he will neither buy nor sell slaves.
This chapter focuses on the breakup of Tom’s family. Feelings of frustration and sadness, along with a certain helplessness in their situation, affect many of the slaves. Although Chloe is considered pious, she cannot find consolation in prayer and her husband’s spiritual advice. The children are too young to be concerned at first, but start to cry when they see their unhappy parents. The other slaves gather to bid their sad farewells to Tom, who they respect as “a head servant and a Christian teacher.”...
(The entire section is 541 words.)
Chapter 11: Summary and Analysis
Mr. Wilson: George Harris’s former employer at the factory
A drover: a cattle driver who converses with Mr. Wilson
Jim: a slave who escapes with George Harris
Mr. Wilson, who is now identified as the manufacturer who employed George Harris from Chapter 2, appears at a hotel bar room in Kentucky. An “honest drover,” or cattle driver, converses with Mr. Wilson, showing him an advertisement notifying its readers that George Harris has escaped. The notice gives a description of George, offering a four hundred dollar reward for his capture or death. The drover recounts how he had freed his own slaves, noting that if treated humanely, they would work and live productively as humans should.
Moments later, a mysterious Spanish-looking gentleman and his servant enter the tavern. The gentleman, named Henry Butler, and Mr. Wilson exchange glances, apparently recognizing one another. When Butler invites Mr. Wilson to a confidential meeting, the gentleman reveals himself as George Harris in disguise. His servant Jim is really a fellow runaway slave.
George tells his former employer of his escape plans. Mr. Wilson, “a good-natured but extremely fidgety and cautious” person, attempts to talk George out of his scheme to flee to Ohio and then Canada. The manufacturer believes that the risks are too great for his friend. George, however, is determined to be free, and...
(The entire section is 641 words.)
Chapter 12: Summary and Analysis
Lucy: a slave whom Haley buys
Aunt Hagar and Albert: mother and son separated when Haley buys the boy
As Haley and Uncle Tom head toward Washington, D.C., Haley notices an advertisement for a slave auction and plans on buying more laborers to sell south. Haley examines several of the slaves before the auction begins and buys a boy, Albert, away from his mother, Aunt Hagar. Aunt Hagar pleads with Haley to buy her too, so that she can be with her son. But Haley refuses because he would lose money on the deal, growling that Hagar is “an old rack o’ bones,—not worth her salt.” The trader then takes his gang of slaves onto a riverboat, heading further south. Several white passengers comment on the presence of the slaves and converse on the nature of slavery itself.
While on the boat, Haley then acquires a woman, Lucy, and her child. A fellow passenger becomes interested in buying the boy and starts bartering with Haley. The trader agrees to sell the child, but only when the man nears his destination so that he can depart with his purchase before the mother finds out. When Lucy discovers that her child is missing and has been sold to someone no longer on the boat, she jumps overboard and drowns.
This chapter portrays Haley at his worst. Despite voicing spiritual concerns earlier to Tom Loker, Haley is remorseless at the prospect of earning money...
(The entire section is 548 words.)
Chapter 13: Summary and Analysis
Simeon and Rachel Halliday: a Quaker couple who aid the Harris family
Ruth Stedman: a Quaker friend of the Hallidays’
Eliza and Harry rest at the Quaker home of Simeon and Rachel Halliday, having been directed there by Van Trompe. A neighbor in the Quaker settlement, Ruth Stedman, visits the Hallidays and chats about the happenings in their community. Later, Simeon arrives with news that several other Quakers are bringing fugitives to the settlement, one of whom is Eliza’s husband, George Harris. Eliza faints when she receives this information, waking later to find George at her bedside. The next day, the Quakers help the Harrises make plans to escape to Canada.
Simeon and Rachel Halliday, as well as their friend Ruth Stedman, live by the Christian principle of doing good for others. Experienced in helping fugitives, the Quakers take in Eliza and her child and attempt to calm her fears. The Quakers do not judge or condemn anyone’s character or motives. Simeon even says: “I would do...the same for the slave holder as for the slave, if the Lord brought him to my door in affliction.” Clearly, the Hallidays side with the plight of the Harrises, but the Quakers’ beliefs hold them to treat all with love and respect.
At first, Eliza and George feel uncomfortable in this environment. As escaped slaves, they are used to more uncertain and...
(The entire section is 392 words.)
Chapters 14-15: Summary and Analysis
Augustine St. Clare: a slave owner in New Orleans who buys Uncle Tom
Marie: St. Clare’s selfish wife
Eva: the St. Clares’ angelic daughter
Miss Ophelia: St. Clare’s cousin from Vermont
Adolph: St. Clare’s haughty servant
Mammy: another family servant
Chapters 14 and 15 return to the plight of Uncle Tom. As the riverboat continues down the Mississippi River, Tom’s goodwill wins the confidence of Haley. The slave trader unchains Tom, leaving him free to walk around. Occasionally, Tom even helps the boat crew with its chores. The pious slave also thinks of his family, trying to find comfort in his Bible.
On the boat, three passengers are introduced: Augustine St. Clare, his five-year-old daughter Eva, and Miss Ophelia, St. Clare’s cousin from Vermont. Eva is “the perfection of childish beauty” and “something almost divine” with “long golden-brown hair.” Tom is immediately taken with her, and they become fast friends, leading Eva to promise Tom that her father will purchase him. When she accidentally falls overboard, Tom rescues her.
St. Clare is a New Orleans gentleman who wears “a proud and somewhat sarcastic expression.” He barters with Haley over the purchase of Tom, teasing and mocking the slave trader by suggesting that Tom’s valued piousness and intelligence would only cause him trouble....
(The entire section is 931 words.)
Chapter 16: Summary and Analysis
St. Clare, Marie, and Miss Ophelia discuss the nature of slavery and religion in this chapter. At first, Marie complains about how people, especially her servants, are inattentive to her concerns. She also believes that her husband fits this uncaring category and calls Eva “peculiar” for wanting to help others, including the servants.
St. Clare states that servants sometimes cannot help their behavior, given the circumstances that they face in slavery. When Miss Ophelia says that slave owners have a responsibility to their servants, St. Clare cites Northerners’ prejudice against blacks despite denouncing the Southerners’ ill treatment of slaves. When Marie enjoys a church sermon that defends slavery, St. Clare is quick to criticize the uses to which religion is put. St. Clare announces that Eva is the “only true democrat,” caring for everyone equally regardless of race or social condition.
The nature of slavery is addressed here in various ways. Despite Marie’s views that servants are already lazy and spoiled, St. Clare believes that slaves behave in certain ways because of the surrounding conditions in which they exist. He thinks it unfair for owners to “make the fault and punish it too.” By this, he hints that slavery is inefficient as a labor system because it is forced upon unwilling participants. Therefore, one cannot brand slaves as lazy and punish them for it. St. Clare also...
(The entire section is 566 words.)
Chapter 17: Summary and Analysis
Phineas Fletcher: a Quaker neighbor of the Hallidays’ who helps the Harris family escape
This chapter returns to the Hallidays’ home, with George and Eliza Harris making plans on what they might do once they reach Canada. Simeon Halliday introduces them to his friend Phineas Fletcher, a “hearty, two-fisted backwoodsman” who married a Quaker woman and joined the settlement. Phineas brings news that slave catchers are nearby, and with his guidance, the escaped slaves head out. Included in their party is Jim, who earlier had run away with George, and Jim’s mother.
As the group travels along during the night, Tom Loker and his gang spot it, and a chase ensues. The fugitives and Phineas hide behind some rocks on a steep hill. Tom Loker climbs after them, but is shot and wounded by George and pushed back down the hill by Phineas. Marks, Tom Loker’s partner, leads the hurried retreat from the scene and leaves Loker behind. George and the others take pity on the slave catcher and decides to bring him to a Quaker home for nursing.
The Harris family still take refuge among their Quaker friends. Although George hopefully ponders about his family’s future in Canada, Eliza cautions him that they are not yet out of danger. When Phineas Fletcher visits the Hallidays, he only confirms Eliza’s fears by reporting that Tom Loker and his search party are close....
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Chapters 18-19: Summary and Analysis
Old Dinah: the St. Clares’ cook
Prue: an old slave at a neighboring house
Jane and Rosa: some other of St. Clare’s haughty servants
As time passes at the St. Clare house, Uncle Tom earns St. Clare’s trust and confidence. Since St. Clare is described as “indolent and careless of money,” he begins to rely on Tom to take charge of everyday business matters such as marketing. Adolph, St. Clare’s personal servant, is just as heedless as his master, and he grows jealous of Tom’s success within the household. When St. Clare comes home drunk late one evening, Tom tearfully implores him the next morning to look after his own soul. St. Clare is touched by Tom’s concern and swears not to indulge in drunken revelries again.
Chapter 18 then turns to Miss Ophelia and her daunting task of putting the St. Clare mansion in order. Going through cabinets, cupboards, and closets, Ophelia organizes the place, much to the shock and curiosity of the servants. One who protests this “vigorous onslaught” is Old Dinah, the head cook for the St. Clares. She resents Ophelia’s intrusion upon her realm of influence, the kitchen. In frustration, St. Clare’s cousin can only respond, “Such shiftless management, such waste, such confusion, I never saw!” St. Clare defends Dinah’s methods because she makes delicious meals in spite of the disorder.
(The entire section is 1721 words.)
Chapter 20: Summary and Analysis
Topsy: eight or nine-year-old slave girl whom St. Clare purchases
St. Clare decides to put his and Miss Ophelia’s ideas about slavery to the test. He buys Topsy, a slave girl, for Ophelia to raise and educate. Topsy’s expression is “an odd mixture of shrewdness and cunning” and “the most doleful gravity and solemnity.” At first, Ophelia protests that she has no use for Topsy, being also repulsed by the slave girl. St. Clare, however, is quick to point out the hypocrisy of Christians like Ophelia, who willingly send missionaries overseas, but refuse to help and reform blacks in their own homes. St. Clare also recounts some of Topsy’s past, in which she had been constantly beaten by her drunken masters.
Ophelia halfheartedly accepts her cousin’s challenge to make something out of Topsy. Ophelia’s task is made more difficult by the other servants’ disdainful attitudes toward the new slave girl. Ophelia is then left with the sole responsibility of raising Topsy. She begins by asking Topsy several questions about the girl’s life. Topsy, however, cannot tell who her parents were or how old she is. Having been raised by slave traders to sell on the market, Topsy’s education is severely lacking. When Ophelia inquires of the girl’s parents, Topsy answers, “Never was born!”
Ophelia begins Topsy’s education with homemaking skills, as well as reading and religious...
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Chapter 21: Summary and Analysis
This chapter returns to the Shelby plantation. Aunt Chloe has received Uncle Tom’s letter that St. Clare had written for him. Mrs. Shelby in the mean time brings up the subject to her husband of buying back Tom. Mr. Shelby, however, is still financially troubled and cannot spare the money for purchasing his former servant. When Mrs. Shelby offers to help with the debts, Mr. Shelby retorts: “You don’t know anything about business.” But as the author points out, Mrs. Shelby possessed “a clear, energetic, practical mind, and a force of character every way superior to that of her husband.” She offers to give music lessons to raise money, but Mr. Shelby refuses to dishonor the family in this way by having his wife work.
Aunt Chloe proposes to hire herself out to a baker and earn the extra dollars needed to buy back her husband. Mrs. Shelby agrees to this arrangement and promises to contribute what she can too. The chapter closes with Master George planning to write back to Tom and reporting what will be done to reunite him with his family.
Here Mr. and Mrs. Shelby once again delve into the practical and moral aspects of slavery. Mrs. Shelby addresses the theme of family, believing that Tom should be with his own kin, even though he is with a humane master, St. Clare. She declares to Mr. Shelby: “I have taught my people that their marriages are as sacred as ours.” Mrs. Shelby includes...
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Chapters 22-24: Summary and Analysis
Alfred St. Clare: Augustine St. Clare’s twin brother
Henrique: Alfred’s arrogant, twelve-year-old son
Dodo: Henrique’s thirteen-year-old servant
These chapters focus primarily on Eva and her influence on other characters. Two years pass, and Uncle Tom still looks forward to the day when he can return to his family on the Shelby plantation. When the summer arrives, the entire St. Clare household moves to a villa near Lake Pontchartrain in Louisiana. Tom and Eva have become even closer friends than before, and as they sit by the lake, Eva has a vision of heaven. She prophesies her own early death, pointing to the sky and declaring: “I’m going there…to the spirits bright.” Sometime previously, both Tom and Miss Ophelia had noticed Eva’s weakening condition. When Ophelia tries to tell St. Clare that his daughter is becoming seriously ill, he ignores her warnings out of the fear of losing Eva.
As Eva watches Topsy and the other slave children play, she inquires of her mother why they do not teach the servants to read. Marie St. Clare thinks that Eva asks peculiar questions, answering that servants were made to work and nothing else. Eva desires to set up a school in the North some day and teach blacks to read and write, as well as provide them with religious instruction. Marie only laughs at her daughter’s dreams.
Augustine’s twin brother,...
(The entire section is 1143 words.)
Chapters 25-27: Summary and Analysis
These chapters continue with a focus on Eva and her influence on the St. Clare household, especially on Topsy. In Chapter 25, Miss Ophelia discovers that one of her bonnets has been destroyed by Topsy. When St. Clare questions Topsy about her mischief, she answers: “Spects it’s my wicked heart.” Ophelia decides that she can no longer tolerate Topsy’s antics and wants to give up on her. St. Clare forces Ophelia to reconsider, however, when he again raises the issue of her supposed Christian endurance.
Eva draws Topsy aside to find out why the servant girl misbehaves. Topsy repeats her history of having no family and no one to love her. She also knows that Ophelia personally dislikes her, saying: “No; she can’t bar me, ‘cause I’m a nigger!—she’d soon have a toad touch her!” Eva declares that she loves Topsy and encourages her to be good for Eva’s sake. Eva then tells Topsy about Christ’s love for everyone.
In Chapter 26, Eva weakens more and is confined to her bedroom. Topsy brings her flowers, although she is first stopped from doing so by Marie St. Clare. Eva explains to her mother that Topsy is trying to behave and overcome her brutal past. Eva then requests that some of her own hair be cut so that she can distribute the locks to everyone. Calling the whole household into her room, Eva dispenses her locks and reminds everbody of their Christian duties. After most have left, Eva asks her father if...
(The entire section is 962 words.)
Chapters 28-29: Summary and Analysis
After returning from the lake villa to the New Orleans mansion, St. Clare tries to make sense of Eva’s death. Although refraining from spiritual considerations, he reads Eva’s Bible and thinks more seriously about his role as slave holder. St. Clare then decides to free Tom.
Miss Ophelia also changes in character, becoming more lenient and understanding toward Topsy. Ophelia approaches St. Clare to have him make out papers of Topsy’s ownership to her so that she can bring Topsy north to freedom. St. Clare jokes with Ophelia at this suggestion, asking her: “What will the Abolition Society think…if you become a slave-holder!” Ophelia, however, is well-intentioned toward Topsy’s future and well aware of the “fiction of law” that made Topsy a piece of property. Ophelia also brings up the future of St. Clare’s other servants in case something should happen to their master, but St. Clare shrugs off his cousin’s concern.
St. Clare moves to a discussion with Ophelia regarding emancipation, or freeing the slaves. He announces that he is now willing to emancipate his servants. “I am braver that I was,” he says, “because I have lost all.” But St. Clare remains skeptical about the future of freed slaves because of many whites’ reluctance to educate or socialize with blacks. As he asks his cousin, “If we emancipate, will you educate?” Ophelia replies that she is ready and willing.
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Chapters 30-32: Summary and Analysis
Mr. Skeggs: keeper of a slave warehouse
Sambo: slave in Skeggs’s warehouse
Susan and Emmeline: mother and daughter auctioned off separately
Simon Legree: brutal master who buys Tom and Emmeline
Sambo and Quimbo: Legree’s drivers, slaves themselves
Lucy: slave whom Legree purchased for Sambo
Chapter 30 depicts the slave warehouse owned by Mr. Skeggs, at which Tom and the other St. Clare servants arrive. The slaves are kept “well fed, well cleaned, tended, and looked after” to bring the highest prices from bidders at the upcoming auction. Sambo, a large and tough slave whom Mr. Skeggs keeps to entertain the other slaves, immediately greets and mocks the new arrivals. Mr. Skeggs wants the slaves to appear merry and contented, forcing them to sing and dance, despite their sorrowful moods.
In the women’s warehouse, a slave mother and her daughter, Susan and Emmeline, are introduced here. They discuss the possibilities of their being sold together; Emmeline is young and hopeful while her mother frets about being separated. Both have been raised in a religious home by a kind woman. The owner’s son, however, had been careless in managing the estate and consequently fell into debt. Susan and Emmeline therefore had to be sold.
Simon Legree first appears in this chapter, at whom Tom “felt an immediate and revolting...
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Chapters 33-34: Summary and Analysis
Cassy: Simon Legree’s defiant slave mistress
As time passes, Tom still works diligently on the Legree plantation. Simon Legree thinks of making Tom into an overseer because of the slave’s intelligence and hard work. But Legree is ultimately dissatisfied with Tom’s upright character and seeks to make him more hardhearted like Sambo and Quimbo.
While Tom is working in the cotton fields, Cassy, Legree’s slave mistress, labors next to him. Lucy also picks cotton, but is slower than the rest; Tom tries to help her by putting some of his cotton into her bag. Sambo sees this act and hits them both with his whip. Tom continues his aid despite Lucy’s protest. Cassy then draws nearer to Tom, placing some of her own cotton into his bag, but warning him that the Legree plantation is too harsh for Tom to act kindly toward anyone.
When Sambo tells Legree of Tom’s actions in the fields, Legree decides that he must break Tom of his charitable habits. After pretending that Lucy did not make her weight in cotton-picking, Legree commands Tom to whip her. Tom refuses, even though Legree confesses that he wants to promote Tom. Greatly angered by this stubborn refusal, Legree beats Tom savagely and then orders his two slave drivers to batter him more.
Tom is put in a shed to recuperate, and Cassy visits to nurse him. She tells him some of the brutal past on the Legree plantation,...
(The entire section is 969 words.)
Chapters 35-36: Summary and Analysis
In Chapter 35, Cassy confronts Legree about Tom’s beating. She calls Legree’s attention to his wastefulness of harming a good slave, especially at the height of the picking season. Earlier, he had threatened to put Cassy to work in the fields, which she actually did to show him the emptiness of his threats. Cassy knows that Legree keeps his distance from her. As she says to him: “You’re afraid of me, Simon...and you’ve reason to be! But be careful, for I’ve got the devil in me!”
Sambo brings to Legree some of Tom’s possessions: the dollar coin that Master George had given him, and Eva’s lock of hair. Legree throws a fit of alarm at the sight of Eva’s curls, throwing them into the fire and tossing the coin out the window. Here the reader learns about Legree’s past, which further explains his behavior. He had been raised in New England by a devout mother. His father, however, was a coarse man, and Simon followed his rough habits. Going out to sea, Simon learns of his mother’s death in a letter that contained a lock of her hair. This lock appears identical to Eva’s and thus reminds Legree of his guilty conscience for spurning his mother and a moral life.
Legree vows to leave Tom alone after this episode, but remains scared by it. He invites Sambo and Quimbo into his house to help ward off his loneliness, and they all participate in a drunken revelry.
In Chapter 36, Cassy visits Emmeline....
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Chapter 37: Summary and Analysis
Aunt Dorcas: Quaker woman who nurses Tom Loker
Mrs. Smyth: Quaker woman who helps the Harris family escape to Canada
Chapter 37 returns to the Harris family in Ohio. After turning away the slave catchers, they journey to another Quaker settlement and bring the wounded Tom Loker with them. Aunt Dorcas, a “tall, dignified, spiritual woman,” nurses Tom Loker, who for three weeks is bedridden from his wounds and a fever. Although he grunts and curses, Aunt Dorcas patiently reminds him to watch his language. To show his appreciation for the Quakers’ hospitality, Tom warns them that his slave catching companions are waiting for the Harrises at Sandusky, a northern Ohio town from which the Harrises plan on departing across Lake Erie to Canada. Jim, the slave with whom George escaped, goes a different way with his mother.
George and Eliza Harris take precautions for their escape by disguising themselves and Harry. Eliza cuts her hair to appear as a man, while Harry is clothed as a little girl. Mrs. Smyth, a Quaker woman from Canada, will go with them, posing as Harry’s aunt. Through this ruse, they all hope to evade the slave catchers’ attention. George, however, voices his doubts and fears about the potential failure of the plan. Eliza calms him through her own religious faith.
The party travels to the docks at Sandusky and remains undetected by Marks, Tom Loker’s...
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Chapters 38-40: Summary and Analysis
Chapter 38 centers on Uncle Tom’s plight at the Legree plantation. As days and weeks pass, Tom begins to feel his physical and spiritual health declining. He derives little comfort from his Bible, being too weary from heavy labor, and even begins to question whether God had forgotten him.
Simon Legree still torments Tom, telling him: “This yer religion is all a mess of lying trumpery, Tom.” Legree’s taunts send Tom deeper into despair. Suddenly Tom has a vision of Christ that appears before him. A voice tells Tom that overcoming earthly sufferings will be rewarded in the heavenly kingdom. From then on, Tom starts to strengthen spiritually and becomes more cheerful. Everyone on the plantation notices this change in Tom’s demeanor. Sambo and Legree misinterpret Tom’s mood, thinking that he is planning to escape the plantation. Legree becomes angered again and beats Tom, but the slave continues to be at peace with himself. Tom even helps other slaves in the field and preaches to them about his religious faith.
One night, Cassy visits Tom in his cabin. She tells him that Legree has fallen into a drunken sleep. Giving Tom an ax, Cassy states that he could easily murder Legree at this moment. But Tom refuses, saying that killing Legree would be evil and resolve nothing. When Cassy decides to murder Legree herself, Tom dissuades her and advises instead that she should run away.
Chapters 39 and 40 focus on...
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Chapters 41-42: Summary and Analysis
Madame de Thoux (Emily): woman whom Master George Shelby meets while heading home, also George Harris’s long-lost sister
The scene changes to the Shelby plantation, several days after Tom’s beating. Mr. Shelby had taken ill and leaves the management of his estate to his wife. After Mr. Shelby dies, Mrs. Shelby settles the accounts and also receives Miss Ophelia’s letter about Uncle Tom. The letter, however, had been delayed for several months, and Tom had already been sold south by the time the Shelbys get the news. Master George, the Shelby’s son, travels to New Orleans on some business and decides to also look for Tom. He discovers that Simon Legree had purchased Tom and journeys to the Legree plantation only to find Tom near death. Master George promises to bring Tom back to Kentucky. But knowing it is too late to be reunited with his family, Tom declares a spiritual victory before dying.
Shocked and enraged at Tom’s treatment, Master George knocks down Legree and then buries Tom outside the plantation’s boundaries. Seeing his devotedness to Tom, other servants of Legree beg Master George to purchase them. Master George cannot, but swears on Tom’s grave that he will do his best to end slavery.
After Master George buries Uncle Tom and leaves, the house servants on the Legree plantation begin to hear mysterious whisperings and groanings within the house. Legree is...
(The entire section is 1053 words.)
Chapters 43-44: Summary and Analysis
Little Eliza: Eliza and George Harris’s daughter
Because of their related circumstances, Madame de Thoux and Cassy travel together to Canada to search for their family members. They track the Harris family to Montreal where for the past five years, Eliza and George have lived in freedom. Their son Harry has grown, and the daughter, Little Eliza, is their newest addition to the family. Through the help of a missionary, Madame de Thoux and Cassy are joyfully reunited with the Harrises.
Cassy’s character softens once she sees her daughter Eliza and granddaughter Little Eliza. Eliza converts her mother, convincing Cassy of Christianity’s moral power. Madame de Thoux offers to share her wealth with the family, and George requests an education. The whole group sails overseas to France, taking Emmeline with them. Emmeline in the meantime meets and falls in love with one of the ship’s crew; they ultimately marry. After four years in France, the Harrises return to Canada.
In a letter to a friend, George discusses his plans for the future. He states his sympathy for Africans who have been sold into slavery and determines to go to Africa, claiming that it is where he belongs. He and Eliza, along with the rest of the family, eventually journey there to become missionaries.
The reader also learns that Miss Ophelia took Topsy back to Vermont and freed her. Topsy received an...
(The entire section is 658 words.)
Chapter 45: Summary and Analysis
In this final chapter, Harriet Beecher Stowe provides incidents and observations that led her to the writing of Uncle Tom’s Cabin. The characters of Eliza Harris and Uncle Tom, she notes, were drawn from her own personal knowledge. One of Stowe’s brothers supplied the anecdotes on which she based Old Prue and Simon Legree. A slave mother’s crossing of the ice-packed Ohio River had also been taken from a real-life occurrence. Stowe points out that Uncle Tom’s experience of being legally unprotected was a common one among slaves. The sale of mulatto women as slave mistresses was also a well-known practice among Southerners.
The greatest factor that led the author to write her book was the passage of the Fugitive Slave Law in 1850. Appealing to her Northern and Southern readers, Stowe emphasizes the inconsistency of practicing Christianity, with its call for the moral and humane treatment of all, while simultaneously hunting down runaway slaves. She challenges Southerners to think through their moral conscience and implores Northerners to welcome escaped slaves and educate them. The author claims that by participating in the Fugitive Slave Law, both sides have sinned in the eyes of God and must atone by fighting against the system of slavery.
At the time of Uncle Tom’s Cabin’s publication, some Northern and Southern readers felt uneasy about the author’s rendition of slavery in the Old...
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